Dwejra restaurant decision a “disappointment” – ISSA and Astronomical Society
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The Planning Authority’s decision in November 2017 to refuse an application for an extension by an existing restaurant in Dwejra, was overturned on Thursday by The Environment and Planning Review Tribunal (EPRT).
The Institute of Space Sciences and Astronomy (ISSA) and the Astronomical Society of Malta, have expressed their disappointment at the decision by the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal.
Back in September 2012 MEPA issued an Enforcement Notice against a restaurant at Dwejra, to remove the lighting, saying that it is a “Breach of condition 7” of the original planning application, which states “Floodlighting of structure and surrounding areas is to be strictly prohibited. Lighting under the canopy should be kept to the bare minimum.”The ISSA and Astronomy and the Astronomical Society argued that, “in particular, the restaurant in question has lighting that is adversely affecting the quality of the night sky at this site, which is designated a Dark Sky Heritage Area in the 2006 Gozo and Comino Local Plan under Policy GZ-DARK-1.
They said that the application description reads – “Proposed development within existing site; Installation of canopy to match existing canopy in order to provide shade and protection from adverse weather, installation of lights, to place tables and chairs within existing site and installation of sign.”
ISSA and the Astronomy and the Astronomical Society, went on to say that its objections have been ignored by the EPRT on the grounds of an engineer’s report that states that the lighting in question is “in conformity with the conditions of the permit issued in 2009.”
However, ISSA and Astronomy and the Astronomical Society said that, whilst this permit requires that “External lighting of the structure should be kept to a minimum, and should consist exclusively of low-key intruder-triggered downlighters of low wattage,” ISSA’s “on-site observations and measurements show that light emanating from the restaurant is: “already considerably brightening the night sky, effectively more than doubling the night-sky brightness, and continuously switched on. Consequently, ISSA said, “the restaurant is in breach of both conditions.”
They said that the EPRT noted in its decision document that “the restaurant and the use of artificial lighting should remain under the scrutiny of the concerned authorities to ensure conformity with the 2009 permit.”
The Institute of Space Sciences and Astronomy and the Astronomical Society of Malta said that they “hope that the authorities will indeed enforce the conditions of the 2009 permit.”
Both ISSA and the Astronomical Society said that they remain firmly of the view that since this area falls under policy GZ-DARK-1, which states that “reflective signs shall be employed to guide driving at night, whilst the installation of lighting which is not related to aerial or maritime navigation, shall be strongly discouraged,” the 2009 permit should not have allowed any artificial lighting to begin with, as this does not serve either of these two purposes.
Up till now they said, Dwejra was the best place on the Maltese islands from where to observe the Milky Way. In fact, ISSA and the Astronomical society regularly hold educational events for the general public, including groups of schoolchildren, at this site.
“Incremental development at this place is worrying, particularly in view of the fact that it encourages further development and infringement across the entire site of Dwejra,” they said.
“Indeed, we note that further lighting has emerged on site, including the Inland Sea,” they said. “Both ISSA and the Astronomical Society will continue to monitor the site, and hope that the authorities remain vigilant and carry out appropriate enforcement at every instance when there is such a need.”
Top photo by ISSA Bottom photo was taken by Benjamin Metzger on the 28th of August 2012